On Memorial Day, every American town gets painted with the country’s flag. But patriotism involves more than just putting the American flag up; it enforces the belief that the country is to remain righteous and strong. On this day, the flag is meant to remind Americans of how far their country has come and who has fought to get them to this point. This federal holiday had a deep-rooted history that every American should know about.
Memorial Day only became recognized as a federal holiday in 1971 but was celebrated by many years before that. Memorial Day in America honors all those who served in the US military – at any point in their lives. The holiday goes beyond celebrating the lives of those who died while in service, as it sets out to honor all veterans and lend support to their families and friends.
This article answers any questions one may have about Memorial Day, including how long it has been a holiday, which countries celebrate this day, and why people wear red poppies on it. Although the history of Memorial Day is taught to every American starting at a young age, it is good to be reminded of why we should continue to honor the soldiers who lost their lives fighting for their country. They deserve to be remembered for standing up for core American values and making the country what it is today. Memorial Day is for them.
10It Originated as a Result of the American Civil War
Many people are aware of the fact that Memorial Day began as a way to honor the soldiers who lost their lives during the American Civil War, but not everyone is as knowledgeable about what happened during this war. So, here’s a summary. The United States’ Civil War began in 1861 because of conflicts between the northern and southern states. The tensions between these two arose over disagreements about land expansions, individual state rights, and views on slavery.
Abraham Lincoln’s presidential election in 1860 led seven southern states to form the Confederate States of America. These states were all slaveholders, and the majority of their economy was dependent on agriculture, particularly the farming of cotton. This meant they had opposing views with Lincoln’s desire to abolish slavery. It wasn’t long before four more states became part of the Confederate, who all together aimed to expand their slavery into more western territories. Unlike the South, the northern states’ economy came from manufacturing. Their agriculture was mostly limited to small-scale farms.
As tensions rose between the two sides, it only got uglier. In 1861, the Confederates fired their first attack on the Union (what the northern states were referred to as), and that’s what began the American Civil War. The war lasted for nearly four years and finally ended when the Confederates surrendered in 1865.
The outcome of the war was over 2 million soldiers losing their lives, millions more being left with severe injuries, and an insane amount of debt. It is this history that is to be remembered when celebrating Memorial Day.
9Which State Held the First Memorial Day Celebration?
In the United States, the tradition that is known today as Memorial Day began soon after the Civil War. During the American Civil War, over 620,000 men had lost their lives while in service or because of the consequences of the war after returning home. Families and friends of these loved ones would often go to pay tribute to their graves. They would do so by decorating the fallen soldiers’ graves with things such as flowers, wreaths, small flags, or crosses – as people continue to do today. These decorating events continue to occur on every Memorial Day, but who started this tradition?
One of the first significant events took place in Charleston, South Carolina, shortly after the war had ceased. On May 1st, 1865, an observance similar to today’s Memorial Day took place with more than 10,000 people. The regular occurrence of decorating a loved ones’ grave became a nationwide event on this day. This event made Charleston one of the first cities to have an official day of commemoration to the soldiers who lost their lives in the Civil War. Other cities claim to be the first to have held Memorial Day services as well. The towns where the initial Memorial Day celebrations took place are Columbus, Mississippi; Waterloo, New York; Boalsburg, Pennsylvania; Columbus, Georgia; and Carbondale, Illinois. Each one of these cities has claimed to be the birthplace of Memorial Day ceremonies.
Maybe all of these states celebrated Memorial Day for the first time on the same day in their separate locations, such is possible. Regardless of where it all began, it’s a beautiful thing that the traditions of these states continue to live on today.
8Memorial Day Has Changed Dates Numerous Times
The date that Memorial Day is observed has changed throughout time. There are several days that Americans have chosen to set aside to honor fallen soldiers throughout history, and individual states continue to have additional celebrations today.
It was not until 1967 that the name of the holiday was officially changed, though. The following year, the date of the holiday changed as well. Before 1986, Memorial Day had always been celebrated on May 30th. On June 28th, 1968, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act was passed, declaring that Memorial Day would be celebrated on the last Monday of May every year. This was done to make sure that the holiday would create an extended weekend for workers. The National Monument of Remembrance Act was passed at the beginning of the 21st century. This act requires all Americans to pause what they are doing at 3 pm on Memorial Day to take a minute to remember and honor all those who have died while serving their country. Even large organizations and companies, including Amtrak and the Empire State Building, partake in this moment of remembrance.
Apart from the federal Memorial Day, some states in the South celebrate what is typically known as the “Confederate Memorial Day.” This holiday was made to honor the soldiers who lost their lives fighting for the Confederation during the Civil War. The day is celebrated on the last Monday of April, a month before federal Memorial Day, in Mississippi and Georgia. The third of June in Louisiana. In Florida, it is always observed on April 26th and in the Carolinas on May 10th. Texas only celebrates the day months after, on January 19th.
7The Significance of Wearing A Red Poppy on Memorial Day
The tradition of wearing a red poppy around the time of Memorial Day originated from the poem by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae named “In Flanders Field.” This poem was published in 1915 and continues to be read in many institutions on Memorial Day. In 1924, America ran out of red poppies. So, instead of ending this tradition, the first artificial poppy factory was created in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. This poppy factor created employment for veterans who needed work.
Lieutenant McCrae was a Canadian, and it is for this reason both Americans and Canadians look to “In Flanders Field” as a way to remember fallen soldiers.
The poem illustrates what McCrae saw around him during the burials of his fellow soldiers. In the battlefields, he saw red poppies growing. These flowers grew over soldiers’ buried bodies, which McCrae understood as a metaphor for the better life that would come after the war ended. The first lines of this poem go:
“In Flanders Fields, the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.”
Due to McCrae’s iconic poem, the red poppy has come to symbolize remembrance. His poem provided the loved ones of fallen soldiers with hope for a better future. It is for this reason that people pin red poppies to their clothes, over their hearts.
6The Holiday is Observed in Many Different Ways
Memorial Day is intended to be a respectful and solemn holiday. Celebrations to honor the fallen soldiers occur in all kinds of forms. In Arlington County, Virginia, there is a cemetery by the name of Arlington National Cemetery that one of the most meaningful Memorial Day ceremonies occur. This cemetery is one of the biggest in the world, being where 400,000 Americans rest. This annual ceremony always has approximately 5,000 attendees.
On Memorial Day, bikers around the country hold an event known as “The Rolling Thunder Run.” This annual motorcycle parade is set out to raise awareness of prisoners of war and people missing in action. The rally began in Washington, DC, with approximately 2,500 participants in 1998. Nowadays, it has become a significant event that nearly a million bikers and viewers get involved with.
There is a PGA golf tournament that happens every year around the time of Memorial Day weekend. This tournament began back in 1976 and is commonly referred to as the “Memorial Tournament.” It takes place in Dublin, Ohio. One of the less extravagant Memorial Day traditions is to sit on the ground and have a picnic-style meal at a cemetery. This tradition is no longer celebrated by many states, except some in the south.
Many cities hold parades to honor the lives of soldiers. The National Memorial Day concert is held in Washington pays tribute to the fallen American soldiers. The show is attended by over 500,000 people and can be watched by US military personnel all over the world. The longest-running Memorial Day parade takes place in Ironton, Ohio, where the town has been holding an annual parade since 1868.
5The Film “Memorial Day”
With the same title as the holiday it is based on, the 2012 film “Memorial Day” is an American favorite. The plot revolves around a young boy by the name of Kyle Vogel who gets his hands on his grandfather’s footlocker from World War II. This footlocker is where Kyle’s grandfather stored all of his belongings during his time in the service. When Kyle begins showing his family and friends what he has discovered, they tell him to put it away – but he ignores them.
Bud, Kyle’s grandfather, rarely ever spoke about his time in the military. Like many soldiers, he wanted to start life anew after surviving the war. He lets Kyle choose three items from the footlocker to know the story behind. The film lets viewers in on what really occurred during the war, through the eyes of a veteran. The items found in the footlocker lead Bud to have many flashbacks of things he hadn’t thought about in years. Kyle gets to learn about the inner workings of World War II from his grandfather’s perspective, which ends up preparing him for his future wartime experiences in Iraq.
Many other films and documentaries have been made in hopes to inform people about what really happens on the battlefield, and how it affects the people who fight for their countries. Other classic films about wartime affairs include “Forrest Gump,” “The Hurt Locker,” and “Black Hawk Down.” If ever you’re looking for a way to learn about the history of wars, watching any of these films is sure to help enlighten you.
4It Used to Be Known As “Decoration Day”
On the fifth of May back in 1868, General John A. Logan, who led an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, declared that there should be a nationwide day of remembrance for the fallen soldiers. He decided that this observance would be held on May 30th, and he referred to the date as “Decoration Day.”
General Logan explained to the masses that “the 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.”
The name “Decoration Day” originated at the Arlington National Cemetery ceremony, when all of the people who attended the event helped decorate the graves of the 20,000 soldiers who rested in those grounds. Filling the cemetery with flags and flowers functioned as a “thank you” to every bodied buried there for what they had done for their country.
By 1890, every Northern state began to celebrate Decoration Day as an official holiday. Each state held its own form of commemorative ceremonies to remember those they had lost to the war. Throughout the early 20th century, more and more people began to refer to the holiday as Memorial Day. Although it no longer has the name Decoration Day, does not mean the decoration traditions ceased to exist. Putting flowers on the graves of fallen soldiers remains one of the best ways to pay tribute to them on Memorial Day.
When the very first celebration of Decoration Day took place on this chosen date, General James Garfield made a speech at the Arlington National Cemetery in front of about 5,000 people. This speech has gone down in history as one of the first public speeches to be made on Decoration Day/Memorial Day, paying tribute to the soldiers who lost their lives during the Civil War. Garfield stood up and told his audience why it was essential to celebrate Decoration Day. In 1880, Garfield became the 20th American President. His presidency only lasted four short months, before he was assassinated on July 2nd of that year.
The words he spoke at Arlington National Cemetery on May 30th, 1868 still stand true. Here’s a part of his memorable speech:
“We do not know one promise these men made, one pledge they gave, one word they spoke; but we do know they summed up and perfected, by one supreme act, the highest virtues of men and citizens. For love of country, they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue.”
3The United States is Not the Only Nation That Celebrates Memorial Day
The United Kingdom and Canada both celebrate a similar holiday to Memorial Day, but they refer to it as Remembrance Day. These two nations both celebrate their Remembrance Day every year on November 11th. They have been observing this holiday since the first world war ended. In Canada, half of the provinces recognize Remembrance Day as a federal holiday. In the United Kingdom, Remembrance Day is not a statutory holiday, but merely an observance. Just like on Memorial Day, both of these places practice having a nationwide moment of silence for all of the soldiers they have lost to wars.
Australia and New Zealand observe ANZAC Day, which stands for the Australia-New Zealand Army Corps Day. This holiday is celebrated by the two countries annually on April 25th. Like in Canada and the United States, many people may their respects to soldiers by wearing artificial red poppies on this day. “In Flander’s Field” has had a lasting impact on a large part of the world.
Besides these countries, 17 separate nations celebrate a national holiday known as Heroes Day. The list of these nations includes Angola, Bahamas, Barbados, Cape Verde, Cayman Islands, East Timor, Hungary, Indonesia, Jamaica, Kenya, Malaysia, Mozambique, Namibia, Philippines, Romania, Rwanda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Turks and Caicos Islands, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. The chosen date for each nation’s Heroes Day is typically a local hero/heroine’s birthday, or the day these people committed a great achievement for their country.
2Ways You Can Pay Your Respects to the Fallen Soldiers
There are many different ways you can personally honor fallen soldiers during the weekend of Memorial Day. One possibility is by spending the weekend decorating the graves in the cemeteries that you live around. As previously said, this decorating tradition has existed as long as the holiday has, so it’s a great way to pay tribute to the bodies that were buried in those cemeteries.
Another great way to honor soldiers on Memorial Day is by offering support to their families. Organizations like The USO and the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) were created to support families of soldiers, both emotionally and economically. Donating money or volunteering for either of these groups is a perfect way to pay tribute to the people who died serving your country.
A simple way to show you care on Memorial Day is tuning into the National Memorial Day Concert that is broadcasted every year on PBS. This allows you to watch as numerous artists find unique ways to recognize all that the fallen soldiers have done. It is both a pleasurable and educational way to spend Memorial Day. If you would like to dig deeper into the history of Memorial Day, you should spend it visiting military memorial or history museum. There are thousands spread out around the United States, so it’s worth taking a trip to the one nearest to you.
Making sure to take a moment of silence at 3:00 pm on Memorial Day is a must if you want to demonstrate your respect for all that the fallen soldiers have done.
1The Core Values of the United States Army
When celebrating Memorial Day, it is crucial to be mindful of the values and ideals that continue to be upheld by soldiers serving in the US Army today. As the film “Memorial Day” demonstrates, the soldiers fighting today are likely to share the same core American values that existed in the minds of the soldiers who fought in the world wars.
According to the census taken in 2017, there are a total of 1.3 million troops serving in the US Army. Many of them are stationed in “conflict areas,” such as Iraq, while others are finding ways to serve their country while remaining in their hometown. No matter where a US soldier is in the world, they are expected to uphold specific motives and standards. The United States Army’s official purposes are presented as follows:
- “Preserving the peace and security and providing for the defense of the United States, the Commonwealths and possessions and any areas occupied by the United States.”
- “Supporting national policies.”
- “Implementing national objectives.”
- “Overcoming any nations responsible for aggressive acts that imperil the peace and security of the United States.”
The US Army has existed for 244 years and is now one of the most massive armies in the entire world. Although people have many opposing opinions about the military, the fact that people are out there risking their lives in hopes to better their country should never be denied. So, on the next Memorial Day, pay tribute to both the fallen soldiers and the ones who continue to fight for the country you live in today.
The fact that Memorial Day continues to be commemorated is something every American should be proud of. Something that came as a result of a catastrophic war has turned into a beautiful celebration to remember the souls that were lost during this unfortunate time and others. The National Moment of Remembrance is practiced nationwide and is legally required, so there’s no doubt you’ll be able to stop and be silent no matter where you are in the country. Besides this, you can also find your own way to pay tribute to the people that once fought for your country, as well as to the ones who continue to do so today.
Memorial Day has been said to be the second most popular day holiday to have an outdoor barbecue, after the fourth of July. Statistics show that 53% of Americans have barbecue grilled meals on this holiday. So, getting together with your own loved ones to remember other people’s fallen loved ones is a positive way to spend this holiday. Next time you purchase a poppy as Memorial Day approaches, keep in mind the words of both Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae and General James Garfield. Let their words remind you to thank any soldier you come across for all that they do. Hold your flag up proudly and let Memorial Day be both a time to remember and a time to hope for a brighter future.